Marie Louise McConville: Christmas is about family and fun, not perfection

Marie Louise and her family's not-so-perfect Santa photo

Christmas, it's such a magical time of the year - isn't it?

Everywhere you look, there are perfect Christmas trees and displays of twinkling lights and at home, most of us try to replicate it all.

That's the thing about the festive season, many of us strive for perfection but as we know that's really not what it's all about.

Last weekend, we decided it was time for the McConville clan to head off on our first Christmas outing so Abbie and James could have their first one-to-one this year with the big man himself - Santa Claus - and we were all so excited, especially me.

Having opted this year for the Lapland Express at Downpatrick and County Down Railway, in my head I had decided it was just going to be perfect for all involved.

So, last Saturday, Abbie, James, Darren, his parents Michael and Angela and myself, dressed up in our Christmas jumpers, accessorising with Santa hats, reindeer antlers and even a flashing Rudolph nose, and off we went.

I had it all worked out.

We would board the train and would enjoy the little ride out to Santa's Workshop.

Like something out of Little House on The Prairie, Abbie and James would be in awe at the toys being made in the workshop and would be dazzled by all the magical decorations and lights.

Then, when the time came, they would sit on Santa's knee and we would snap the perfect photo.

What with Abbie's perfect pigtails and James's glossy blond hair, it would be a wonderful image to be treasured for years to come.

And, in reality, what happened wasn't too far off - well, kind of.

Arriving at the platform, we were certainly dazzled by the wonderful lights displays and decorations however James was more taken with a cute little Thomas The Tank Engine display which he thought was the best thing ever.

On the train, the kids were overjoyed when we set off on our journey and had great fun sitting beside Nanny and Grandad.

As we disembarked at Santa's Workshop, their little eyes just lit up as the man in the white beard appeared and exchanged greetings with everyone.

We joined the queue to see Santa and as we passed through the various carriages - where toys get repaired and where Father Christmas makes new toys - the kids were so excited.

But, as we waited, I did experience a little panic in relation to Abbie's Santa list.

Having spoken to her a few days earlier she had told me all the things she would be asking Santa for including a new doll, make-up and lipstick. However, there had also been a new addition - ham.

I was a little perplexed so I asked her why she wanted ham only for her to tell me "for ham sandwiches mummy" as ham sandwiches are her favourite thing.

I explained she didn't need to ask Santa for that and I hoped that was the end of the matter.

However, standing waiting to meet Santa, I experienced a momentary panic that she might ask for ham and it might make us look like we don't feed her. Bad parents.

But, in the end, there was no more time to worry as we were called and up Abbie and James jumped on to Santa's knee and Darren and I were invited to get into the photo.

But alas, the perfection I had been hoping for was not possible as little James decided it was not cool to be sitting on a strange, bearded man's knee and he wriggled and wriggled and wriggled until he was free and, well, the photo we got shows the very moment he had had enough.

As well as this, Abbie was without a smile and Santa looks like his eyes are closed - ah well, never mind.

Afterwards, when we all went for dinner together, wearing our festive attire, we had such a lovely time and I realised I had been silly about stressing over the perfect photo as that's not what Christmas is all about.

Deep down, I know it's about loved ones and friends and spending time together - and ham sandwiches of course.

So, here's to a not-so-perfect Christmas this year and all the fun it brings with it.



If the festive season has already left you feeling stressed, how do you fancy a post-Christmas night out to help you relax?

Some of the UK's leading tributes to Michael Jackson and Erasure are taking to the stage at the Europa Hotel on Friday, December 29 and I have three pairs of tickets to give away to three lucky winners.

In what promises to be one of the best party nights this December, the Erasure tribute will perform tracks from their latest album World Be Gone, as well as dance floor favourites such as A Little Respect, Oh L'Amour, Stop and Sometimes.

The Magic of Michael Jackson also promises to be magical.

Anthony Walker's new concert style show will take you through the era of the Jackson 5 and the solo career of the legend and musical genius, Michael Jackson.

Fans can look forward to a set list which includes Billie Jean, Smooth Criminal, Dirty Diana, and Thriller, and with live dancers and awesome visuals, the show promises to entertain.

Tickets for the show are available online at and from Irish Tour Tickets, Great Victoria Street (opposite Europa Hotel)

If you fancy winning a pair of tickets, simply email your name, address and telephone number – along with the answer to the question below – to

Closing date for entries is Tuesday, December 12, 2017

(Q) On what street is the Europa Hotel located in Belfast?

Normal Irish News Rules Apply


What's Hot?

Sweet - If you're still looking for a sweet centrepiece for the Christmas table this year, check out the new foot-long eclair from Asda. The showstopping decadent dessert - which costs £5 - is made with deliciously light choux pastry, filled with fluffy Belgian chocolate mousse and sticky caramel sauce and topped with a chocolate fondant. Say no more. Count me in.

Fizz - If you're holding out for some fizz this festive season, check out the Clementine & Cranberry Bucks Fizz from M&S. The sparkling cocktail, which costs £6, is made with white wine, clementine and sweet cranberry juice. Very tasty.

Duet - I am loving the remixed version of Ed Sheeran's Perfect which also features Beyonce. It is such a lovely song and Queen Bee has just added a little sparkle.

So Not!

Exit - Soap fans have been left disappointed after it was revealed that former X-Factor star, Shayne Ward, who plays Aidan Connor on Coronation Street, is to leave the soap in explosive scenes, which are due to be aired early next year. Oh dear. Who will be the new heart-throb?

Reunion - S Club Seven have decided to reunite, but with just three members. Apparently, Jo O'Meara, Tina Barrett and Bradley Macintosh will rebrand as SC3 after the other four original members opted out of the regroup. I'm sick of these reunions.

Oh crumbs - It's been reported that the price of Christmas biscuits is to soar this festive period due to a national butter shortage. As a result, supermarkets have increased shelf prices on festive lines, including shortbread and gingerbread.



The winners of the Blood Brothers competition are Clare Brady, from Belfast and Grainne Lennon, from Warrenpoint


Easy Peasy Recipe

This week's Easy Peasy Recipe is Lemon Meringue Fridge Cake

You will need:

sunflower oil for greasing

1.5 packs of (300g) plain buttery biscuits

2 lemons (one zested and juiced and one sliced to serve)

400g mascarpone

400ml double cream

25g icing sugar

100g lemon curd

10 mini meringues

To Make:

Grease and line a loaf tin with baking parchment.

Line the base with a row of biscuits.

In a bowl, whisk the lemon zest and juice, mascarpone, cream, sugar and 50g lemon curd until thick.

Transfer roughly 1/4 of the mixture to another bowl and chill in the fridge for later.

Layer the mascarpone and biscuits in the tin, and add the remaining lemon curd in spoonfuls between the layers.

After around four layers. finish with a layer of cream. Wrap the tin in cling film and chill for at least 8 hours or up to 48 hours.

When serving, unwrap the tin and turn the pudding out onto a platter.

Peel off the parchment.

Crush four of the mini meringues to a rubble texture and stir through the reserved mascarpone mix from the fridge.

Spread across the top of the pudding, then press the remaining mini meringues and lemon slices on top.

Do you have an Easy Peasy recipe you would like to share?

Are you the queen of quiches, magnificent at muffins or can you turn out some nice scones?

If so, then we want to hear from you.

You can send your name, address, contact number and recipe (plus photo if possible) to:

Easy Peasy Recipes,

Marie Louise McConville,

Irish News

113-117 Donegall Street,





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